Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the jump in reported sexual
assaults to 5,061 in the 2013 fiscal year from 3,374 the previous
year, was "unprecedented."
He announced six new directives to expand the fight, including an
alcohol policy review and an effort to encourage reporting by male
victims. Men are thought to represent about half of the victims of
military sexual assault but made up only 14 percent of the reports
that were investigated.
"We believe victims are growing more confident in our system," Hagel
told a Pentagon news conference. "Because these crimes are
underreported, we took steps to increase reporting and that's what
Despite increased focus on the issue over the past year, the
military has continued to face embarrassing incidents in which
officers have been accused of tolerating sexual misconduct and even
encouraging it, rather than fighting the problem.
Critics said the Pentagon's numbers on increased reporting
demonstrated little improvement in the proportion of cases going to
trial or the percentage of convictions.
A total 484 cases went to trial in the 2013 fiscal year that ended
on September 30 and 370 people were convicted of an offense, the
report said. That compared with 302 trials the previous year and 238
"You can't tell me that only one in 10 cases are worthy of going to
trial. That's like saying 90 percent of those who come forward are
lying," Representative Jackie Speier, a California Democrat, told
Reuters in an interview.
Speier and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, have led
a push to remove prosecution of sex crimes from the military chain
of command and put it in the hands of specialized prosecutors. The
effort was narrowly defeated earlier this year, but Thursday's
report revived calls for its consideration.
"Today's report is deeply troubling and shows the scourge of sexual
assaults has not been brought under control and our current military
justice system remains broken," Gillibrand said in a statement.
Other lawmakers saw progress. Senator Claire McCaskill, who worked
on legislation to develop a more forceful military response to the
problem, said the increased reporting was encouraging.
"We know that the majority of survivors, both military and civilian,
choose not to report their assaults," the Missouri Democrat, a
former sex crimes prosecutor, said in a statement. "This data
suggests that the number of brave men and women in uniform choosing
to pursue justice is increasing."
[to top of second column]
Sexual assault is vastly underreported, and a separate military
survey conducted in 2012 concluded there were some 26,000 sex crimes
in the military that year, from rape to abusive sexual contact.
The survey is conducted every two years, so there was no survey with
the annual report this year to use as a basis for projecting total
sex crimes in the services.
The figures last year provoked outrage and led to a broad effort
across the military to crack down on sex crimes and sexual
misbehavior. But despite the push, a number of high-profile officers
are being investigated for their actions.
The Navy said last week it was investigating allegations of
misconduct by Captain Gregory McWherter, the former commander of the
Blue Angels precision flight squadron. He was accused of allowing
and sometimes encouraging "lewd speech, inappropriate comments, and
sexually explicit humor," the Navy said.
Major General Michael Harrison also was recently disciplined for
failing to take appropriate action in response to sexual assault
allegations while commander of U.S. Army forces in Japan. He had
been suspended from the post last June when the allegations were
Army General Martin Dempsey, the highest-ranking military officer,
told defense bloggers earlier this month that the department had a
limited window of opportunity to demonstrate it could deal with the
sexual assault problem.
"If it occurs that after a period of very intense and renewed
emphasis on this that we can't solve it, I'm not going to fight it
being taken away from us," the military's press service quoted him
(Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid and David Gregorio)
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